DSS Champion Paul Alford
08 Sep, 2023
Paul Alford will celebrate his "big birthday" this year in Sweden, turning 60 in the company of some family members up in Scandinavia. It is a far cry from the years he spent in institutions feeling like was going nowhere.
Paul, who lives in Navan in Co Meath and who has worked for Inclusion Ireland for the past 18 years, speaks a mile a minute. He is forthright and gregarious and sometimes gives the impression he is making up for lost time. Maybe he is.
He says that as a child he never lived at home, moving from the Daughters of Charity in Baldoyle to the St John of Gods Brothers and then on to residential settings. None of them were ever home, and he likens the long weeks working for a few ‘bob’ and nothing more as "slave labour".
It all changed because he had had enough and then spoke up about his preferences. He wanted to travel, to work, to have his own place, to live his own life. He has managed all of it.
"When I came to Inclusion Ireland in 2005, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t write, I couldn’t pick up a pencil, I couldn’t do computers," Paul says. Now he can, showing that it is never too late to set your own path. His blossoming self-confidence and assertiveness is an example to others, but as Emer O'Shea, his manager in Inclusion Ireland and seated next to Paul during our interview, says: "You will sometimes raise your hand to say something to me because the habits were so ingrained, not to speak unless he was told he could.
"The impact of how you were brought up stays with you but that’s why you are so passionate because you know what it is like to have your rights taken away from you."
For Paul, the staff in Inclusion Ireland are "A1" and the best thing is owning his own place, secured at the right time with the assistance of a credit union loan and money properly owed to him thanks to all those thankless days working away in various institutions.
For Emer, there are plenty of other people like Paul, who can forge a new path for themselves. His story has not been without its challenges, such as an initial reluctance to leave his house when he first relocated to Co. Meath, and the fact that he has an effective cap on his working hours as to increase his time in Inclusion Ireland would negatively impact his benefits.
But for someone who once took off on a holiday to Beijing without telling those running the centre where he was living, Paul has illustrated that almost any issue can be overcome. He's even written a book about some of it, though he says he still wants to finish "the second chapter".
"I would like more people to get out of these institutions, live life on their own, and write their own life story like I done," he says.
To learn a little bit more about Paul, please watch a short video at this link.